As we approach the new year, we are planning our annual congregational meeting for Sunday, January 8, immediately following the worship service. In this meeting we will be approving the candidates for elders, deacons, and trustees who have been identified by the nominating committee and approving the budget proposed for 2017. According to our bylaws, voting on these candidates and the budget is restricted to members of the Athens Church of Christ, that is, immersed believers who are at least sixteen years old and regular attenders.
Church membership is a weird thing. It’s weird because, while there is no biblical command for anyone to “join” a church, there is certainly a lot of evidence in the New Testament for joining. First, there’s an obvious call to join the church, as in the universal church or the body of Christ, which Paul describes in Romans 12:5 and 1 Corinthians 12:12, 27. It’s this kind of membership in the body of Christ that led the early Christians to meet together daily in the temple courts, to meet in their homes, and to take care of each other (Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-35; 5:12; 6:1-7).
Second, it is clear that our membership in the body of Christ means we are joined together in the work of the church. In Romans 15:30 and 2 Timothy 1:8, Paul calls others to join him in his struggles and suffering for the gospel. In Ephesians 2:21 and 4:16, Paul describes the church as being members being joined together in Christ. Perhaps the closest we can get to a command is in Philippians 3:17 where Paul writes, “Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.”
Last, it seems that being part of the local church is a matter of submitting to the leaders of the local church, which is a command that we find in Hebrews 13:17, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.” It seems, then, that membership within the local church body not only has expectations – submission to the leaders – but also benefits – the oversight and care by godly leaders.
So while there is no biblical command to join the church, it seems that the biblical example is that Christians, as members of the universal Body of Christ, ought to join themselves to a local body of believers as members under the leadership of local leaders. While there are no specific guidelines of how to make that connection, the biblical guidelines clearly show us that members of the local body are those who are members of the Body of Christ – that is, immersed believers in Christ – who participate in the work of the church and who submit to the leaders of the local church. For these reasons, while we welcome everyone to worship with us and while we welcome others to serve with us, we restrict “membership” to those who have joined themselves to Jesus Christ in faith through baptism by immersion, who will submit to the leadership of our elders, and who will join with the rest of our body of believers by participating in the life and ministry of this body. This is also why we restrict the privilege of voting in congregational meetings and some of the roles of service and leadership to members of the Athens Church of Christ.
If you have any questions about what it means to be or become a member of the Body of Christ – to become a Christian – or to become a member of the Athens Church of Christ, please let me know. I would be glad to chat with you.